You know the drill. Candlelit tables. Windows to the ski slopes. Fine wines and bubbly. Delectable dishes presented by master chefs. Loving looks and hands held. Oh, yeah, be sure your credit card limit is clear.
Virtually every mountain resort in ski towns all across the United States and Canada can make your vacation memorable. Plan on at least one evening at the town's most highly recommend gourmet stops.
OnTheSnow checked in with our own editors, friends, and ski resort and tourism staffers who spend their winters visiting lots of ski towns or, better yet, live in one. They gave us their favorites for those special vacation nights. They represent just a fraction of the best of the best, but it's a place to begin.
Colorado: You could dine fine every night of the week at the state's mountain resorts. Shannon Luthy, OnTheSnow's Colorado editor, lives with her family in Steamboat. She thinks the romantic atmosphere and Chef Kate Rench's ever-changing menu at Café Diva in the Steamboat Mountain Resort Village, is tops.
Head to Vail and Beaver Creek. My favorite in Vail Village has long been Pepi's Bar & Restaurant in the ever-charming Hotel-Gasthof Gramshammer. The intimate atmosphere and European flavor eminates from innkeeper-owners Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer. He a former Austrian racer of renown, and she hails from a family of innkeepers. Pepi's has been a success story since the early days of Vail in 1964. Dinner specialities are wild game and veal. Try Austrian dishes such as Jaegerschnitzel in the main dining room and elk steak in the Antler's Room.
Joan Christensen, a veteran of the Colorado resort scene, has numerous recommendations for romantic, gourmet dining. Moving over to Keystone, she loves the Keystone Ranch on the golf course at the base of the mountain. She had "dreamy lamb chops" in the original 1930's ranch homestead, with a rustic, elegant interior, "like a wonderful private library."
Utah: Jill Adler, OnTheSnow's Southwest editor who lives in Park City, Utah, has a gourmet's tip that might not make your list at first glance. It's the Seafood Buffet at Deer Valley Resort. "I know it sounds chuckarama cheesey," she says, "but it's not."
She admits slinging the words "buffet" and "gourmet" around in the same breath isn't normal, but "they turn the Snow Lodge cafeteria into a linen and china thing with oysters on the halfshell, crab legs, shrimp on ice, prime rib carving station, pastas, and more." Adler also recommends Chimayo as a "gorgeous restaurant with southwestern spice" at 368 Main St. in Park City.
New Mexico: Chris Stagg has been part of the scene at [R454, Taos Ski Valley], the legendary ski destination in the Southwest since the seventies. He has several choices for fine dining. Start right in the Ski Valley at the historic Hondo Restaurant in the Snakedance Condos. Stagg says it's a great place for the whole family, too.
Lamberts of Taos, 309 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur, in the nearby town of Taos, is another favorite of the Staggs. Look for that Glazed Roasted Duck with apricot chipotle sauce. Another great choice is Sabroso Restaurant in tiny Arroyo Seco, 470 State Highway 150, just about 12 miles from the ski resort. It's located in a 150-year-old adobe and serves up American and Mediterranean-accented fine dining.
California: Rob Brown has skied, fished, and hunted in the Lake Tahoe area for many years. His top choice for dinner is the Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village. "It's right on the lake with beautiful views. The atmosphere, with two huge fireplaces, add to the fine food choices," he says.
Brown also recommends the Sage Room Steak House at Harveys across the lake on the South Shore in the heart of Stateline. That's where Heavenly is your skiing and riding lure. "This restaurant has been a great choice since the 1940s. Classic western art is on display and your steaks are flambe'd right at your table," he says.
Dan Pistoresi works for the Ski Lake Tahoe trade group and has a bunch of suggestions, too. Edgewood Restaurant, with its lakeside setting, is located in the casino corridor in South Lake Tahoe. Evan's is found in an unassuming cabin/house on the South Shore. "This little known restaurant is on the short list for locals hoping to take their visiting friends out for an elegant affair." Manzanita is the latest offering from San Francisco-based chef Traci Des Jardins. It sits mid-mountain at Northstar-at-Tahoe resort in the recently completed Ritz-Carlton, Highlands. Access is available from the Village at Northstar via the complimentary Highlands Gondola.
Oregon: Mt. Bachelor, near Bend, Ore., is a top regional destination in the Pacific Northwest, says Dave Rathbun, the resort's president and general manager. His top choice for that special night is Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails at 919 Bond St. in the heart of Bend's downtown. Bend is 21 miles from the resort. "Their barbecued shrimp appetizer and wild local steelhead in lemon caper sauce entrees are to die for," he says. Rathburn says there is an excellent wine list featuring some of the best Oregon Pinots available. "It's also a hip and happening bar scene."
Western Canada: North to Whistler in B.C. means a visit to the Bearfoot Bistro, 4121 Village Green in the Whistler Village, where Executive Chef Melissa Craig will make the romantic evening memorable. It's five-star dining, but without all the fuss and pretenses that usually accompany it. Check out those Venetian masks that adorn the walls.
Mary Zinck works for the tourism agency in Whistler and has a personal favorite for that gourmet evening we all crave. It's Araxi. "Araxi was awarded best Whistler restaurant 10 times by Vancouver Magazine. Chef James Walt's cookbook was recently nominated for James Beard awards," Zinck reports.
Does your vacation take you to Banff, Alberta? Then Liz Robins, who works for Ski Banff-Lake Louise-Sunshine, knows the dish, so to speak. The Maple Leaf, 137 Banff Ave., offers Canadian food, specializing in bison, beef, and elk, and a wine list of over 600 choices. "My favorite entree is the Alberta AAA beef steak."
The Bison Restaurant & Lounge, also in Banff at 211 Bear Street, has a formal dining room upstairs and a casual, funky lounge downstairs. "This is very Albertan, specializing in meats, cheeses, and locally sourced, sustainable food. Try the lavender s'more - a yummy local twist on a classic Canadian dessert," Robins says.
There are so many mountain resorts in the Midwest that choices for gourmet dining abound. Mike Terrell, OnTheSnow's Midwest Editor, has his personal favorites. Terrell lives in Traverse City, home of [R272, Mt. Holiday]. Shanty Creek, and Crystal Mountain.
He rates Bum's Mode Steer, 125 E State St., downtown, as "simply the best steak house in northern Michigan. It's a classic and has been for nearly 40 years." He touts Aonach Mor Moonlight Dinner at Boyne Highlands, for romance. "It's a sleigh ride to the top of the ski hill, a candlelight dinner, strolling musicians, and a view of the Mighty Mac - the bridge that connects the two peninsulas - about 20 miles distant. Check the schedule. It's often a weekend highlight.
There are 11 ski states in the Midwest, so let's rush around a bit for dinner on Terrell's list. Cornucopia Dining Room at Devil's Head Resort in Merrimack, Wisc., has "great food and service. I've been eating here for about 30 years." The Sunset Grille at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, Ill., offers "fine dining and superb views of the Mississippi River and ski area slopes. Sunsets over the water are a bonus." Visitors to Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota should plan on a special night at Bluefin Bay Grille on Lake Superior for "gourmet dining with a grand view, because it's right on the water."
New England: This region has many classic country inns and exceptional restaurants in ski towns. Roger Leo covers New England for OnTheSnow.com and has skied (and eaten) at virtually every one of them. His top choice for that "one great night" is The Inn at Sawmill Farm in West Dover, Vt., home of the venerable Mt. Snow resort.
This is a place about which Bon Appetit wrote, "The Inn is known far beyond Vermont for its fine cuisine." You'll discover exposed beams, hanging chandeliers, fine china, and terrific service. Leo suggests ordering the roasted boneless loin of lamb, eggplant provencal, and potato puffs with fresh mint sauce.
John and Linda Clifford know New England ski resorts well. He's a top level marketing expert and Linda is an exporter with a Scottish shop in Maine.
"Our choice for a romantic evening can only be Hemingway's at Killington, Vt., (4988 US Route 4). Not just because Esquire Magazine included them in their list of "most romantic restaurants in America," but because every time Linda and I have visited, we have walked out saying, "That was without question the best dinner we have ever had," Clifford says.
"Ted Fondulas is the multi award-winning executive chief and his work in the kitchen is nothing short of magic, Clifford explains. "Linda, Ted's wife and co-owner, manages the dining room with a flare of elegance and warmth that is simply beyond description. Hemingways isn't just great, it's in a class by itself."
Quebec: Across the border and up the road from Vermont is Quebec City, a gateway to plenty of skiing and riding. You might opt to stay at the landmark Chateau Frontenac in the Old City. Leo suggests walking a few steps from the hotel for your big night out to Café de la Paix. "The Old City is filled with restaurant and this is my favorite. But one of the joys of a visit here is wandering the narrow streets and looking at menus posted outside," Leo says. "Quebecois and Quebeccoises pride themselves on their food, with good cause."
We couldn't go everywhere in this story, so we welcome your suggestions about other fine gourmet restaurants you would recommend to vacationing skiers and riders.